One is a graduate who worked for a short while in a Malayalam daily, the other acquired a degree through distance education to get a job as a branch manager in Dubai. Of the 17 Indians the government suspects have joined the Islamic State, the least is known about the ones from Kerala — except that they were working in the Middle East, and suddenly dropped off the radar.
NAME: Abu Thahir
FROM: Olavakkodu in Palakkad district
EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATION: Graduate
STATUS: Called up family from Doha to say he was going to Turkey; believed to be in Syria.
The 45-year-old had been waiting to hear that voice for four months. Ayishumma’s conversation with her son in January though was short, and chilling. “Umma (mother),” Abu Thahir told her, “We will meet in heaven. I don’t want to return home. I am in Turkey.”
She hasn’t heard from him since.
The 24-year-old left home in 2013 to work as an accountant in Doha, Qatar. Thahir didn’t visit home after that, but was in constant touch till September last year.
Officials believe Thahir is in Syria, having entered the war-torn country through Istanbul.
His last Facebook post was on August 12, when he put up a video of an attack on the Syrian army.
Thahir has posted pictures of “martyrs”, talks about being a member of the Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian wing of al-Qaeda, quotes verses from religious texts, and appeals to like-minded people to join jehad.
He also makes a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his account. In a post on June 2, with a photograph of what appears to be a heap of bodies of children killed in the bombing of Syria, he says, “Bashar (Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria) and Modi are equal, just that they were not born to same parents.”
In March 2015, he specifically denied being a member of the IS. “There is a lot of wrong information being spread,” he wrote. His group was the Jabhat al-Nusra, he said, and it did not kill without reason, “even if they are Christians”.
Ayishumma lives with her two daughters, one of them married, in a colony of BPL families at Olavakkodu, in Palakkad district. Their home, only half-built, stands on a 4-cent plot. Her husband Abdurahiman has been working as a salesman in Saudi for seven years.
Before moving to Doha, Thahir, a graduate, worked at Thejas, a Malayalam daily owned by right-wing Muslim outfit Popular Front of India (PFI). The family says he was an ordinary PFI activist, and worked only for a few months at the daily, first as a part-time correspondent and later in its editorial section at Palakkad.
“All together, he worked at the daily for less than a year,” said a family source.
In September 2014, Thahir was scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia from Doha to perform Umrah. Abdurahiman came to the Jeddah airport to receive him, but he didn’t turn up. For two days, the family says, Abdurahiman kept waiting at the airport, before he had to return to Riyadh and report for work.
Thahir’s former colleagues at Thejas too have have tried to contact him, but failed.
“Reports that he could have moved to Syria have shattered the family,” said a close relative, as Ayishumma refused to talk about him.
The irony, said the relative, was that Ayishumma, who had high hopes from her only son and had sacrificed a lot to finance his graduation, was always afraid of Thahir going astray at home due to links with the PFI.
“So she encouraged him to go to the Gulf and find a job.”
NAME: Mohammed Rishal
FROM: A village in Kannur
EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATION: Degree through distance education
STATUS: Went to Dubai to work, left for Turkey on tourist visa
Acquaintances say Mohammed Rishal’s family sent him to Dubai for the first time seven years ago following a skirmish with the RSS. He returned to his coastal village in Kannur towards the end of 2013 a changed man, sporting a long beard.
In April this year, Rishal called up home to say he and his wife Huda Rahim were going to Turkey on a three-month tourist visa. “He informed me two-three days before he was leaving for Istanbul,” said father Asgar Ali.
A month later, Rishal again called up, this time to say he intended to settle down in Turkey. “He told me he loved the place. We were not happy and urged him to return to Dubai, where he had a good job. But he is unwilling,” said Ali, who runs a travel agency. The family stays in a house in a spacious compound.
Local officials say they have no leads on where the 25-year-old could be.
When he left for Turkey, Rishal was working as a manager at a branch of Al Ansari Exchange. His elder brother, an MBA, works as a business analyst for the same firm.
After Class XII, Rishal had attended a computer animation course for a year in Kannur. During this time, locals say, he developed links with right-wing Muslim elements. Soon after, he left for Dubai to work with Al Ansari Exchange as a low-level contract employee.
The father denies this was the reason Rishal left for Dubai. “I never heard of such incidents involving him. He got a chance to move to the Gulf, and took it. That is all,” Ali said.
In Dubai, Rishal acquired a degree through distance education and got promoted as branch manager. In November 2013, he got married to Rahim, who belongs to a Kerala-origin family settled in Dubai, and moved in with his in-laws. The wedding was held in Dubai. When Rishal came home to Kannur after the ceremony, it was the 25-year-old’s first visit since leaving.
The family admitted it didn’t have a contact number for him in Turkey, and that he called up home via Internet phone. “When we insisted that he give us a number, he said he would call us and do so,” said Ali. “Since he moved to Istanbul, I am not keen to talk to him. He hasn’t called in recent weeks.”